It’s not easy breaking down how to choose clients. Many contractors that are relatively new to the business don’t even consider the concept of “choosing clients” as a necessity – you take what you can get, right? Turns out that’s not the case.
Experienced contractors often learn the hard way that not every client is worth the trouble. That might seem like a harsh way to put it, but it’ll become clearer once we dive deeper and explain how you can identify red flags early and avoid yourself a lot of trouble and headaches in the future.
This isn’t exactly “cherry picking” – you want as many clients as you can get, obviously, but when a client in the end wastes you more time and money than you gained, that’s when some caution is advised.
Watch for the signs
Early on, most contractors will tell you to trust your gut. Whenever you feel a strange friction with the client from the very start, it’s usually the first sign you should watch out for – it’s nothing concrete yet, but keep an eye out. Here are some specific examples:
Clients that are too undecided and hesitant. You might come across those that are too undecided or try to seek out too many alternatives to cut costs, which in turn, constantly halts progress and makes your job harder. Indecision is something you can try to help with, because some people just don’t know what they want and that’s fine. However, your necessity to move on might lead clients like this to sit back and later blame you if they’re unsatisfied with the results.
Clients that push too hard to cut costs. This will simply make your job way harder and will likely compromise the quality of your service. There’s nothing wrong with making some compromises if the client’s budget is small – that’s fair. But if they push too hard for cheap and quick and get exactly that, as unreasonable as it might seem, they can still call you out on a poorly done job – even if they were the ones that pushed for it in the first place.
Then there’s the most obvious sign:
Hesitance or refusal to sign contracts and commit to payments. Writing everything down is already a great step anyway, but it’s paramount here. Compose a written contract, make sure the client reads and understands it, and agrees to the terms laid out. If at any point they suggest proceeding without signing or indicate they misunderstood any terms, do not proceed before clearing it up.
Outline the budget early
A client’s reaction to the budget is extremely telling. It’s fair to assume most clients have a basic understanding of the work you will perform, but there are cases where the client either doesn’t understand or pretends not to in order to exploit you.
These are the cases where a client reacts violently to what they consider too high of a cost, and may try to intimidate you by pointing out “the service is simple, it can’t possibly cost that much!” Or they may try to push payment forward into the project by conjuring up excuses in an attempt to have the job finished before you receive a single penny.
The sooner you outline the budget and send to your client, the better. Otherwise all sorts of misunderstandings can happen later on.
Work with clients that value your work
Not every client is going to fully grasp what your job entails, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be disrespectful towards you. Many clients are willing to listen, learn, and in the end gain a much higher appreciation for what you’re doing.
Through this process, they learn to value your work. If the first thing you notice when briefing a new project is that the client disregards your input, tries to imply the job is easier than you’re charging for, and – as mentioned before – tries to cut costs by suggesting lower quality materials or pushing for shorter work days… that’s when you know you’re in trouble.
This is a client that doesn’t value your work and will give you far more trouble than it’s worth.
Look for team players
You might be the expert, but every contractor project involves teamwork – and the homeowner is a part of that team. There’s a big difference between a homeowner that knows what they want and relays that information to you so that, together, you can work out the best way to proceed...
And a homeowner that simply tries to strongarm your professional decisions, takes initiative behind your back, and changes their mind mid-project to confuse and disrupt your workflow.
In short, you’re looking for clients that know how to communicate and help you get the job done, that value your work, and aren’t coy about payments and terms of agreement.
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